For women, having a seat at the table does not mean having a voice.
We discuss the BYU Study When Women Don’t Speak. This study outlines some of the difficulties women face when they are outnumbered by men in a group discussion. Women are seen as less authoritative, are often interrupted, and talked over. As a society we have been “slowly socialized over years to discount” female expertise and perspectives.
Katherine Graham quote (this is 1969):
“What got in my way of doing the kind of job I wanted to do was my insecurity. Partly this arose from my particular experience, but to the extent that it stemmed from the narrow way women’s roles were defined, it was a trait shared by most women in my generation. We had been brought up to believe that our roles were to be wives and mothers, educated to think that we were put on earth to make men happy and comfortable and to do the same for our children… Pretty soon this kind of thinking – indeed, this kind of life – took its toll: most of us became somehow inferior. We grew less able to keep up with what was happening in the world. In a group we remained largely silent, unable to participate in conversations and discussions. Unfortunately, this incapacity often produced in women – as it did in me – a diffuse way of talking, an inability to be concise, a tendency to ramble, to start at the end and work backwards, to overexplain, to go on for too long, to apologize.” (Katherine Graham, Personal History, pg. 417)
In answer to these difficulties, women tend to strive for more assertiveness. However, being more assertive isn’t as likely an answer as we might think. When we are assertive, women face the competence likability problem: A woman who is judged to be competent, is also seen as less likable. Women are also much more likely than men to be given negative feedback about their personality or manner. A woman who asserts herself is judged as bossy and aggressive because it goes against our stereotype of what feminine behaviour ought to be.
Additionally, NY Times reports that researchers consistently find that women are interrupted more and that men dominate conversations and decision-making, in corporate offices, town meetings, school boards and the United States Senate, and I would add in church meetings.
What can we do? From a Harvard study, we can prepare to speak informally rather than formally. Have your ideas and concerns clear, and be prepared with questions and insights. In meetings, men come early, hang out, toss ideas around, Women tend to be efficient- in and out- but miss out. Be prepared to speak informally. This can prepare us to be more a part of the decision-making process.
The NY Times suggests that we can use authoritative and precise language. For example, we can stop using the words “just” and “maybe”. (This is the diffuse way of talking referenced by Katherine Graham.) Words like this send a subtle message of subordination, of deference, and are used more by women than by men. We can also stop saying sorry, as there is no need to apologize for taking up space.
We can be strategic. Men see women going off on tangents with few facts, and getting lost in the passion and being repetitive, so we can be aware of our communication. We can be confident and passionate, but not too much. Additionally, women can band together- we can take opportunities to highlight the contributions of other women (Ex: “That’s an excellent idea Julie”, or “Patricia said X and I think she’s right…”). As we do this other women will see it and respond to it.
Things men can do: They can invite more women to the table, and actively pull women into conversation. They can also push for decision making to be unanimous rule, (rather than talk time) which sends the message that every voice matters.
When women speak up they affect more important change, more peaceful resolutions, more long-term solutions.
When Women Don’t Speak by Brittany Rogers
Helping Women Ensure Their Voices Are Heard by China Collins
The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women by Susan Chira
Women, Find Your Voice by Kathryn Health, Jill Flynn and Mary Davis Holt
A Plea to my Sisters by Russell M. Nelson
Counseling With Our Councils by M. Russell Ballard